tv [untitled] December 2, 2010 8:00am-8:30am PST
co-director of the national employment law project. and eliza hirsch is the supervising attorney in the clean slate pride is at the east bay community law center. welcome, panelists. i want to tell the audience that while we are having this session, if you have questions, feel free to write them down, and the ushers will get them some you. at the end of the discussion, we will have a question and answer session. dr. richards, it is my understanding you have some personal experience in this area. i would ask you to share your experiences with us and tell us about the barriers that exist for people who have a criminal record. >> i'm a convicted felon. i'm an ex-con. and i'm a professor. i'm the leader of the convert criminology group. if you just go to google and
google convict criminology, you will find our website. our group was actually started many years ago by professor john irwin, who was at a san francisco state university for 30 years. john recently passed away. john, even after he retired in 1995, for nearly 15 years helps me to organize the convicts criminology group. there is now 30 of us. we are all ex cons, ph.d., and professors at different universities. because i'm a convicted felon, i should say i went to federal prison for nine years. >> [inaudible]
i came to a public forum, which included a lot of attorneys, to try to rectify these matters. >> [inaudible] >> i am here. i will be outside for five minutes with this information. [inaudible] >> thank you very much. [applause] >> thank you. thank you. >> continue, dr. richard s. -- dr. richards. >> [inaudible] >> we love the excitement. this is all intentional. >> i'm happy to be in san francisco, and that kind of
brings me to the point i want to say. this morning, we were in the courtroom, and we have lawyers, public defenders talking about legal cases, talking about the roles they play. what i think has been lost here, and maybe even this gentleman kind of raised it, is what happens to these defendants? what happens when they go back into the court, into the lock up after they have pled guilty? about 95% of them plead guilty. you know that they are being forced to plead guilty. you all know it. it is like there is a gun to their head. i call it the terror of arithmetic. they are being threatened with 100 years, 50 years, 20 years -- you know what that does to them. they go back to their jail cells. those numbers bounce around in there had. after a week or a month or six
months or a year, a year-and-a- half, they plead guilty. and you know as public defenders, one of your main jobs is to make them plead guilty. and i know you do not want to hear that, and i know that you think you're doing the right thing for your clients, and a lot of that is because you do not want to know the rest of the story, which is what happens to them later. for example, myself, i was a student at the university of wisconsin. i had no criminal record. i got arrested in a marijuana conspiracy case. no possession, no sale. i was threatened with 150 years. 150 years. i'm from madison, wisconsin, which is a town not unlike san francisco. they cannot put me on trial in madison in wisconsin, so they took me to the south of carolina, and they put me on
trial in strom thurmond federal courthouse in charleston, south carolina. across the street was the confederate cemetery. from the courthouse, they flew two flags -- the u.s. flag and the confederate battle flag, which was the state flag of south carolina. from the court room, i could look out the window and seaport sumter in the distance -- see fort sumter. they put me on a case with no marijuana. they invented imaginary marijuana. they said i was charged with conspiring to contribute 10 tons of colombian marijuana. i pled not guilty. i had a jury trial. i was found guilty on one account, acquitted on nine. i had an appellate case and the supreme court case. i was then facing 15 years. since may to nine.
when i went to federal prison, i did time in eight different states in nine different federal prisons, including four penitentiaries -- that is a maximum security. including the united states penitentiary at marion, the first super federal max. that is on a marijuana convention. -- conviction. i spent most of my time in solitary confinement. you do not know this, but if you plead not duty and you get a jury trial and then you have an appellate case, you go directly to solitary confinement. were you do not have access to the law library. you do not have access to your attorneys. i spent most of my time in federal prison in solitary confinement because i had an appellate case. if you do not know this. when i came out of federal prison, i went to graduate school, directly into graduate school.
my first semester in grad school as a master student, i remember the chair of the department asked me if i could teach criminology. i said, "sure." [laughter] the first day i taught class at the university of wisconsin, i had 500 students and an entire front row were milwaukee police officers. i told them that i just got a federal prison. they looked at me, and i said, "we are going to have a good time." [laughter] hey, it is real. that is what i want to do for you today, make it real. what you see is only a piece of the story, what happens in that courtroom. what happens later is when they go to prison. >> could you tell us some of the barriers you faced from the transition from prison into the community? >> when you get a prison, now, there is no date money. they all walked out in many states in their prison uniforms,
with a number across their chests. it is really a miracle they do not get shot as escapees. they are coming home to the community with no winter clothes, no eyeglasses. they have had no medical attention in years. they are usually silver and not on drugs. usually, not always. -- they are usually sold -- sober. the idea is in prison they dry out. in prison, they are just warehouses. there is no prison programming anymore. there's no college programs -- there is one in san clinton here, thanks to the people of your community, but that is one of the few in the country, the one you have at san quentin. so all they could get is a ged in general. they come out with no date money, no clothes. none of them have jobs when they get out. and they come home to what? when they have been locked up 5,
10, 20 years, they go home, and their families do not even want them home. >> what impact does somebody's criminal history have on this transition from the system into the community? >> in seven states, you can never vote again. most states, you cannot vote while you are on paper. because of the criminal background record checks that are now ubiquitous, incredibly, a, you have a hard time ending an apartment, getting a car loan, getting any kind of job. i'm a convicted felon, and it would not hire me and walmart. i could not work the cash register at burger king. most occupations and recessions are close to you because you are a convicted felon -- occupations and jobs. when you see homeless people outside, most of them have felony convictions, mostly
bullshit felonies, the little felonies. that is why they cannot get jobs. that is why they are panhandling and sleeping in doorways. their numbers are just going to multiplied next year, the year after, 10 years from now. >> let me ask, would you agree there are significant areas for people who have criminal history records? >> i would agree. it is not just people who have felony convictions and going to prison, but i was struck this morning by the stories that amy told, and a gentleman who was a reporter in santa clara county about the people who have the misdemeanor convictions they got without representation. i thought i would take a second to talk about what happened, at least in alameda county, after
throwing conditions for a misdemeanor. in alameda, they probably end up on court probation for three years, which means no fourth amendment rights and services and no supervision. it means they often get a warrant. while there are on probation, they are ineligible for the clean slate remedies that exist under the law. i do not call it expunge because there's no true excitement, but the dismissals, they are not eligible for that which makes it hard to get jobs because most job applications ask a question about criminal history and convictions. they cannot lawfully answer no convictions. then, they are subject to extensive criminal background checks from commercial companies, and i know quarries will talk about the impact of that. they cannot work. the zero court fines and fees often, and they cannot pay his back, which means they can i get dismissal even when they are off
probation. you can see the cycle that goes on here. people do not know that they are not eligible for applying for fire services after many of these. we have had clients pick up new misdemeanors for applying to own a firearm. sometimes, what was really happen is people would pay a great deal of money to get into some of the technical schools, truck driving schools. they want to become a certified businesses and, these low-wage jobs. they pay money to go through the training programs and graduate and find out they are ineligible for those licenses because of their criminal record, or they have a great deal of work they have to do with their criminal records before they will be eligible, and they just spent a lot of money because the schools
took their money. the horse -- horrors about what happened were discussed. i talked about the man riding a bicycle than the street and what that meant for his future. >> there are significant barriers for folks who have criminal history records. would you agree we need criminal record reform? if so, why? >> i think -- first, i just want to say a couple of words about what we do. many years ago, i was a legal aid attorney in new york. for the past 20 years, i have been an employment advocate. we practice employment law, mostly on behalf of low-wage workers, and we kind of got into this whole issue when it became clear that there are some legal handles available to protect the rights of people with criminal records who are seeking jobs, so
i can talk more about our project in that area. anyway, i come out of it from the point of view as an employment advocate, so the problem which we have seen a lot -- we have this project called the second chance labor project -- where we are representing workers trying to navigate these criminal background checks that does permeate every occupation that you can think of. especially since september 11. you have seen way more requirements, both by private employers and requirements imposed by state and federal law. in california, for example, there are about 200 occupational licensing laws that regulate just about every occupation you can think of. private security guard, home health care worker -- and think up and down the line, there is a good chance there is a law that regulates your occupation. if you have a felony going back
seven years, you cannot work at the port without going through a tsa background check. 1.5 million workers this past year had to go through that. those are everywhere, but there are some basic employment rights that people have, and here in california, we have some good laws on the books. we'll talk about reform of these losses some more. i will be happy to talk about that now, but i just want to mention there are some good laws that protect workers. for example, you have this issue -- you had multiple levels of access to all this criminal record information. first, you have the state criminal record system that is basically to upload all the local county records. of the federal criminal records system, which is considered the cadillac of the record systems out there. it is an accumulation of all the state records, and then you have private screening firms -- big
corporations that are making a lot of money on criminal background checks, credit checks, and all that. in california, those laws are pretty heavily regulated. for example, the private screening firms cannot report of arrests -- or they are not supposed to -- and i cannot report convictions going back more than seven years. federal law does not even close, not nearly as good. that is consumer protection law. then, applicants are entitled not to report arrest on an application, so we are very familiar with lots of good laws on the books that are never enforced. the real challenge is to get about enforcing these laws. i do not know if you want to talk about it --
>> tell us about what is next. how can we be successful in taking -- you mentioned there are some good laws on the books. do we -- do they go far enough? how can we take it further? how can we essentially this reform? this seems to be critical. >> we had this huge proliferation of background checks. this huge proliferation of this industry that is collecting all these criminal records, and you have way more people walking around with a criminal record. one in five, as was mentioned. so there is huge potential for problems. the issue that the laws and procedures and protections and all that have not even close to caught up with this huge problem that we have now. so that is where i think we need to start. me to really check in and of the basic protections that apply and go about the business of reforming some of those basic laws.
i'll just mention a few. first of all, title 7 of the civil rights act of 1964, the basic law that protects civil rights or the protection against discrimination. back in the 1980's, clarence thomas used to be the head of the equal employment opportunity commission. he signed off on a directive that said that title 7 applies to employment decisions that are made based on criminal background checks because those decisions had a disparate impact on people of color. there are great procedures in place that say that employers cannot discriminate on some based on a criminal record unless they can show that it is based directly on the job. basic common sense standards that are not in force because people mostly locked around -- employers mostly walk around saying that anybody with a criminal record of a felony or these blanket policies are illegal under title 7, so we
need to strengthen title 7, up the title 7, and apply the standards to state law as well. and there is a good piece of legislation that would do some of that. then, san francisco was one of the first communities to adopt a policy called and the box -- ban the box. it is responsible for getting this whole thing going, but now, 21 local cities and counties around the country have adopted san francisco's policy, and three states now, two in the past year, when they remove the question about your criminal background from the job application, and a delay the process until the end of the hiring process. basically, they remove a lot of the stigma are under criminal background, and they are creating a more fair process of giving you a shock -- giving you
a shot based on the merits of the position. but i said, there's a lot more interest in that. i have been talking a lot. i'm going to stop there because ensure other folks have something to say. and i talk to us about changes in the law and some of the efforts being made in california right now, and where are we falling short, and what needs to be expanded as it relates to prior criminal arrests and convictions? -- >> talk to us about changes in the law. >> forest talked about the issue of discrimination against people with criminal records -- maurice. that mean we would not need these other remedies, but we are a long way off from that being the national standard, unfortunately. what i work with people on every day as cleaning their records up to the extent allowable under california law, so cleaning your record up to the extent allowable under california state
law is really different from saying "clean slate." i feel like we are at best raising expectations unfairly because there is no clean slate in california, but we are trying to improve the laws that there are and expand them. actually, this session and assembly -- my coworker who works on policy in my office has been successful in working with community partners and putting forward ab 2068, and it is really a technical fix, not sending terribly exciting, and if i say it, your eyeballs will fall out of your head, but it basically updates penal code section 1204a the expunge men or dismissal remedy, and brings it up to the same level as 120 3.4. the point is in some cases, people who can get that a remedy for cases when they did not go to prison, there will be eligible to legally say -- some
people, certain jobs, they are able to answer "no convictions" for certain jobs, but again, is a far cry from now even having to answer those questions. the problem with the laws in california are that they are very piecemeal. they were written over a long stretch of time. they do not really interact with each other very well, and did not do as much -- i feel like i am being so negative, so i'm going to try to think of something positive. they do sell certain people. a major problem we have is that for people who have gone to prison in california, for this cases for which they were sentenced, the only remedy is something called a certificate of rehabilitation, which is so far from expunge meant -- it is a gold star on your criminal record that you get to take
around and show people. that would be my dream to work on that. the other option is pardon, and i think governor schwarzenegger has printed six, and not to my clients. >> nor mine. i want to return to dr. richard s. i think a cut you off, and you were giving us a real perspective on the impact criminal history has on a person's life, and a one to give you back your time. >> i appreciate the legislation and the work that you do any work you are doing, but i think we have kind -- we do not realize how big a problem this has become. united states today, we are this global power. we are fighting wars that do not end. you all know this. and the war has come home. the war is in the streets.
we have arrested millions of people for drugs. thank god i'm in california. show me some pot, you know? california is wonderful, but it is not that way in the rest of the country. they are still giving people felony convictions for possession of marijuana. you guys are really progressive. the rest of this country is not. the rest of this country is fighting a war that you cannot even protest. we are so far, even though barack is in the white house, isn't that great? the country is more right wing than you ever realized. besides berkeley and madison, an arbor, san francisco, and the rest of this country is right wing. what does that mean in terms of what is happening? we have 7 million people in constructive custody. 7 million at this moment. jail, prison, probation, parole.
last year, 80 million people were arrested in the united states. 1/3 of them were released in 26 hours. about 2/3 spent a day or longer in jail. we are incarcerating and solemnizing -- felonizing this population. you cannot discriminate by race, but you can buy criminal record. wisconsin was a police state, very liberal, right? it is against the law to have intercourse until you are 18 years old. but i just ask you this, this is san francisco, let me ask you this -- how many of you have smoked pot? [laughter] i ask this of my students every semester. how many of you have sexual intercourse before age 17? in my state, you are convicted felons. right? so i tell my students, i tell
them that i'm going to take my university's 15,000, and going to take my students, and we're going to march down to the police station, and they are all going to confess to having sexual intercourse before age 18. my point is there is no escape anymore. it is not just a criminal records. i really feel sorry for our children and grandchildren. we are telling -- felonizing recreational drugs, felonziinizg recreational sex. i go into prisons, and in interviewing lesbian women who are 19 and 20 years old who get 20 years for having sex with a 17 year-old. she's 19, she 17, she got 20 years. that is what is coming to.
in this country now with mandatory minimums, with these damned sex loss -- sex is illegal, guys. next, they are going to start arresting people for having sex out of marriage. sex offender laws, there has not been a word about that today. it is worse than the war on drugs. if you get arrested on a sex offense, that to happen to anyone of you. you are all than -- tehm. -- them. any of you to be arrested for inappropriate touching. what is that? five or 10 years? what gets to me now is it is not just about criminal records. many of you could be arrested tomorrow based on the supposition or the allocation of some witnesses that said that you sexually assaulted them in
an elevator in a parking lot. there is no defense. it will ruin your career. you will lose your home, your marriage, your kids, and then, the public defender will make you plead guilty. >> the scene of the fear of crime, and that was touched on a few times today, and the more fearful we are, the more laws we have any more prisons we have, and i think that is what dr. richards is touching on. in the realm of criminal policy, the more fear there is that the more laws we have that limit what people can do, people with criminal records can do. an example of that this session is there is a bill pending from assemblyman night from palmdale
that basically what say that anybody who has ever had a drug conviction cannot volunteer in their child's school. there already are laws on the books that allows school districts to criminal background checks, but this would add this permanent exclusion for any -- and i'm not talking only net labs. i'm talking any possession. that is an example of the ever- expanding range of laws that limit people with criminal records. that is ab 2034. >>? there anyone here who can inject a little hope -- is there anyone here who can inject a little hope? we know that there are barriers. we know the laws are overreaching. we have employers that ignore the laws. so what is the solution, dr. richard s. -- d